Another call for Unitarian Universalists to stop fighting for consistent racial justice

Read this blog entry published by Mel Pine and written by Rev. Richard Trudeau:

Here are excerpts from it in red and my responses in blue.

I am writing this for lay members of Unitarian Universalist congregations. I believe there is a crisis in the national UU movement, and I believe that laypeople are in the best position to help resolve it. The rub is, very few laypeople are aware of the crisis…

Why would you assume that? Many reports about what has been happening over the past few years have been published online and in print, by bloggers like myself, on Facebook, and even in the UU World magazine itself.

What integrity in leadership looks like

An Open Letter to the New President of the Unitarian Universalist Association

Stop whining about “censorship”!

A debate in the UU subreddit over the 2017 hiring controversy.

I’m a UU minister. I first learned about the UU movement in 1960, as a teenager unhappy with my Catholic upbringing; I decided then that if I ever returned to church, it would be to a UU church. In the early 1980s, I started attending a UU congregation, which I then joined. I was granted UUA ministerial fellowship in 1994 and was ordained in 1995. I served two UU churches, 1992-2012. I am now semi-retired, preaching a total of about twenty times a year at a dozen or so UU churches in southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

So he is someone who has credibility because of his long association with UUism. Granted.

The crisis I see is that a majority of our UU national leaders have become committed to a particular ideology that threatens two aspects of UUism: our commitment to social justice, and our values of reason and free expression.

These leaders — at the Unitarian Universalist Association, in our two seminaries, and in the UU Ministers’ Association — have become so committed and intransigent that I have started to think of the ideology that has captivated them as a mental virus with which they have become infected. By this analogy I do not mean to imply that they are mentally ill, of course, but only that they seem stuck in a rut (think Communism, 1917-1989). Victims of this mental virus can be recognized by their calls to “dismantle our white supremacy culture.”

I would think that efforts to dismantle white supremacy culture IS promoting social justice. And people have used their own reason and free expression to call for it. Freedom can’t be one sided.

I said this mental virus threatens the UU commitment to social justice. I was present at a ministers’ meeting ten years ago at which someone who had just ended a term on the UUA Board reported that there was then a consensus on the board that the UUA racial-justice strategy — at the time called “Journey Toward Wholeness,” and underway for thirteen years — had accomplished disappointingly little. What the UU leaders of today are doing is to double down on this same strategy.

While the name “Journey Toward Wholeness” has been retired, and the rallying-cry has changed from calling on whites to “confess our complicity in institutional racism” to calling on all to “dismantle our white supremacy culture,” the underlying strategy has not changed.

The racial-justice strategy our leaders are pursuing is a strategy that doesn’t work to make Black lives, or any other lives, better.

I think his claim is false. Read this:

New hiring practices help UUA live into its values

Careful attention to hiring practices has diversified the staff of the Unitarian Universalist Association and deepened its commitment to antiracism, antioppression, and multiculturalism.

The UUA Leadership Council is 42 percent people of color in January 2020.

Last October, at a symposium on Black theology sponsored by Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism (BLUU) in Saint Paul, Minnesota, Carey McDonald, executive vice president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, shared exciting news with the Rev. William G. Sinkford: In just over two years, the UUA had more than doubled the number of people of color in top leadership roles, meeting an ambitious diversity goal Sinkford set for the UUA during his ten-week interim co-presidency in the spring of 2017.

Sinkford, the first African American elected as UUA president, had led the association from 2001 to 2009. In his final full year as president, the UUA’s Leadership Council—its senior staff, including the president—was 14 percent people of color; the staff as a whole was just under 14 percent people of color. Eight years later, during the final year of the presidency of Sinkford’s successor, the Rev. Peter Morales, the first Hispanic president of the UUA, people of color made up 20 percent of all employees, but the number of people of color on the Leadership Council had not changed. For an association with a stated commitment to antiracism and multiculturalism, the numbers of people of color, especially in top leadership positions, frustrated and angered some UUs. Critics said the UUA was routinely favoring white ministers when hiring for senior positions, and a denominational crisis over hiring practices erupted in March 2017, three months before the end of Morales’s second term. Morales and two other top officials resigned in April 2017.

Instituting a shared model of leadership it had not used before, the UUA Board of Trustees named three people of color as interim co-presidents—Sinkford, the Rev. Sofía Betancourt, and Dr. Leon Spencer—until a new president could be elected in June 2017. The board also established a Commission on Institutional Change to assess institutional and structural racism in the UUA. The co-presidents announced a hiring freeze until new policies could be set and added two people of color to the Leadership Council: Jessica York, the interim director of Ministries and Faith Development, and Carey McDonald, the UUA’s Outreach director.

Soon the co-presidents announced new hiring goals: at least 40 percent of people in managerial and decision-making positions on the UUA staff should be people of color and/or indigenous people, they said, and, overall, the UUA staff should be 30 percent people of color/indigenous people. While no UUA employees were to be terminated to meet the goals, the policy was to guide all new hires.

At the BLUU symposium in Saint Paul, McDonald told Sinkford that today, through focused and concerted effort to transform UUA culture, the Leadership Council is 42 percent people of color, and the overall staff numbers have risen to 30 percent people of color.

“My response,” says Sinkford, “was to be both impressed and delighted.” Moreover, Sinkford encouraged McDonald to make sure the story got told: in less than three years, the UUA had moved from a particularly low point to a place of celebration—albeit qualified by a clear recognition that there is much work to be done.

So it appears the latest efforts have been more successful than those of the past because clear difference in policies and practices were made. So what’s the problem now?

The reason I lean toward the analogy of a mental virus infecting the majority of our national leaders is that I have no doubt that they are well-intentioned, and for the most part capable, people, yet their behavior is to me incomprehensible. I can only understand it if I imagine them as victims. Just as a physical virus, like the one causing COVID-19, exploits laudable human traits to gain entrance to our bodies — like our human desire to be physically close to one another — the mental virus of which I speak seems to have gained entrance to our leaders’ minds by exploiting their laudable qualities of empathy and passion for social justice. But the result is that their judgment seems to me impaired; they are no longer thinking clearly.

So just because you do not understand the motivations behind the people you disagree with, you claim they are somehow diseased! That’s no way to have a fair dialogue on the matter, but then again if you wanted that, you would not be publishing your insults in Mel Pine’s blog, right? He quit the UUA, so most UUs wouldn’t even notice his works now. It’s now an anti-UUA echo chamber.

I said that the mental virus also threatens the UU values of reason and free expression. This is clear from the treatment accorded over the last year to Rev. Todd Eklof of our Spokane, WA congregation. Rev. Eklof wrote a book, The Gadfly Papers, that expressed concern about the crisis in UUism to which I have been referring. Since the book’s appearance, the UU Ministers’ Association has publicly censured him and then expelled him; he has been fired by a UU seminary as a supervisor of ministerial interns; and he has been removed from UUA fellowship by the UUA’s Ministerial Fellowship Committee. These organizations have claimed procedural irregularities as the reasons for their actions, but upon close inspection I don’t find that any of their explanations hold water. And as a result of the example that has been made of this one minister, UU ministers across the land are intimidated.

Eklof wasn’t punished merely for writing a dissenting book. That was absolutely his right. However:

Reopening Old Wounds Among Unitarian Universalists

With the election of a new President of the UUA at the 2017 General Assembly (GA), it seemed like we could start to move forward to heal the racial divisions. But then came the GA of June 2019, which was held at Spokane, Washington. Imagine the shock among the attendees when the minister of the UU church at that city, Rev. Dr. Todd F. Eklof,  backstabbed the rest of them with a book he had written and was trying to distribute at the GA without prior notice. This book, titled The Gadfly Papers: Three Inconvenient Essays by One Pesky Minister, attacked all the efforts to solve the racial problems, angering many non-white UUs. When the UUA leadership tried to talk to Eklof about what he was doing, he refused to meet with them, putting them in the awkward position of expelling him from the GA itself! (Emphasis mine)

The betrayal was felt so strongly because Eklof’s congregation was supposed to be HOSTING the General Assembly, which was expected to continue dealing in unity with racial issues. Eklof’s stunt would be like me as a known critic of the Baha’i Faith invited to a meeting of mostly Muslim people and after arriving instead of giving a speech criticizing that Faith, attempting to give attendees there copies of this:

Contradictions of orthodox Islam

No, I wouldn’t do that! That would only get my @$$ thrown out of there. You can’t force people to listen to a message they didn’t expect to hear and are not receptive to. Eklof should have known better!

I hate writing this essay. As a minister, my instinct is always to bring to the people in the pews a message that is positive. And what I have written today is hardly that.

Somehow, I doubt you hated writing that too much. I never hate writing anything I feel strongly about and think is important. And I write a LOT of negative stuff on my blog.

What I have said today is that UUism is under attack by those sworn to uphold it. They are destroying the commitment to reason and free speech that attracted so many of us in the first place. And they are wasting our energy on an approach to racial justice that doesn’t work.

How would you know it doesn’t work? Can we wait another decade or so and find out?

What can be done? You might think, “This should be brought up at General Assembly.” But General Assembly is not really democratic, according to the UUA Board’s Fifth Principle Task Force (2009), and the UUA has since become even less democratic because all UUA Board members are now elected at-large and do not represent local constituencies.

Well, a lot of UUs of color didn’t think the UUA was democratic enough because their views were not being heard. Now they are and….that bothers you. You know, if people who have been privileged are not feeling a little uncomfortable about social changes, then the changes are meaningless, merely window dressing without substance. 

What can be done? All I can suggest is that lay UUs look into these matters for themselves and, if they agree with me that the situation is alarming, express their unhappiness loudly to their congregational leaders, to their Regional staff, and to the UUA itself.

UUs in the pews, please help!

And what will you do if they don’t agree with you and even oppose outright your opinions as I do? Quit being a UU also?

What a waste of keyboard strokes! As a UU layperson myself, I feel profoundly insulted by Rev. Richard Trudeau’s diatribe!

8 thoughts on “Another call for Unitarian Universalists to stop fighting for consistent racial justice

  1. Here is the actual text of the condemnation of Rev. Todd Eklof issued by the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association:

    {{{UUMA Board and Executive Team Issues Public Letter of Censure
    Saturday, August 17, 2019

    UUMA Elected Board of Trustees and Executive Team
    Issues Public Letter of Censure

    16 August, 2019

    Rev. Dr. Todd Eklof
    Minister, Unitarian Universalist Church of Spokane

    Dear Todd,
    As the leadership of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association, we are writing this letter of censure regarding the content and the manner of distribution (at the 2019 General Assembly) of your book, The Gadfly Papers. We hope this action will be received as an invitation into awareness, acknowledgment of the hurt that has been caused, and an opportunity for restoration, reconciliation, and engagement in the ongoing work of the UUMA, not as an attempted resolution of an “issue.” The content of your book has caused great psychological, spiritual, and emotional damage for many individuals and communities within our faith. Because of the widespread impact, we are making this censure public and distributing it to all members of the UUMA.

    As the continental leadership of the UUMA, our responsibility is to uphold our values and our covenant. We believe you have broken covenant. We write this letter to ask you to seek understanding of the harm that has been done and to work toward restoration. We would welcome the opportunity to help guide and support a public process of restoration, which we expect would foster widespread learning about what it means to be a covenantal faith.
    We understand from your book that you want to encourage robust and reasoned debate about the direction of our faith. However, we cannot ignore the fact that logic has often been employed in white supremacy culture to stifle dissent, minimize expressions of harm, and to require those who suffer to prove the harm by that culture’s standards. Further, we believe that dismissing testimonies of real people to the profound and pervasive pain of white supremacy culture and its many forms of oppression by simply categorizing them as safetyism or political correctness is both morally wrong and antithetical to our values as a faith tradition.
    We believe that you have violated the spirit of the Ethical Standards in our Code of Conduct detailed in our Guidelines for the Conduct of Ministry, which call us to:

    Honesty and diligence in our work
    Respect and compassion for all people
    The work of confronting attitudes and practices of unjust discrimination on the basis of race, color, class, sex, sexual orientation, gender expression, age, physical or mental ability, or ethnicity in ourselves and our ministry settings

    As we call you to be accountable to your colleagues, we also call ourselves, as UUMA leadership, to be accountable to our members and to our covenant and values. We recognize that our current ethical standards leave room for ambiguity about what kinds of speech and behavior are racist and oppressive. Our commitment to the ongoing work to revise our Guidelines, clarifying expectations of anti-racist, anti-oppressive conduct in the practice of ministry, seems more crucial each day. We are also working to revise the accountability processes to ground them in values of justice, integrity, and healing rather than in their current legalistic frame.

    It is our deepest desire, not to exclude people, but to welcome everyone into this work, recognizing that our members represent a wide spectrum of perspectives, experience, readiness, and willingness to engage. While we wish to be sensitive to that spectrum, we also must balance that against the stark and painful fact that people of color, indigenous, trans, disabled and other marginalized communities have testified over and over again to the spiritual, psychological, emotional, physical, and moral damage that racism and oppression have caused. Those impacts are not up for debate.

    Grounded in our mission, with profound sadness for hurt that has been caused, and with deep longing for the promise of what can be, we close with this prayer of lament:

    Spirit of Reason and Passion,
    We hear again the cries of pain from those of marginalized identities
    Pain inflicted all too often in the name of UU values and principles.
    Their hope is dying, crushed once again by dismissal and devaluation
    Is there room for all of us in this faith?
    Yes, this is a faith for us all.
    This is a faith where love is stronger than hate
    Where justice is our mission and beloved community is our vision.
    Where relationships are key to our individual growth and understanding.
    We are a faith that balances mind and heart, and embraces both in spirit.
    May we live into that balance.
    Recognizing the power of our words to manipulate and harm.
    May we remember the power of relationship,
    And work toward restoration when covenant is broken.
    Embraced by Love,
    Striving towards Justice,
    We pray.
    Blessed Be

    In faith,

    The UUMA Board of Trustees and Executive Team
    Wendy Williams, President
    Rod Richards, Vice President
    Richard Speck, Treasurer
    Elizabeth Stevens, Member At-Large
    Walter LeFlore, Member At-Large
    Christana Wille McKnight, Member At-Large
    Darrick Jackson, Director of Education
    Janette Lallier, Director of Operations
    Melissa Carvill Ziemer, Director of Collegial Practices}}}

    Because of the congregational nature of Unitarian Universalism, censuring Eklof was really all they could do; they did not have the power to fire him from the church he was at, so the congregation itself would have to do that and only if the majority of its members voted to do so. Had this been a more authoritarian institution like the Roman Catholic Church, Eklof could have been removed from the priesthood and even excommunicated outright by the Pope via a personal decree on his part.

    • More details about what happened:

      {{{Censure Q&A
      Friday, November 1, 2019

      Censure Questions and Answers
      updated mid June, 2020

      What is the UUMA?
      The UUMA is a member organization. It is joined on a voluntary basis, and at this time, there is no requirement that Unitarian Universalist ministers become members of the UUMA. Membership is secured through the payment of dues, (though we do issue full and partial waivers for dues payments every year) and by adherence to our Bylaws and Code of Conduct.

      What is a censure?
      The letter of censure issued to Rev. Eklof was not a membership action. This censure has no impact on Rev. Eklof’s membership in the UUMA, nor relevance to his Fellowship status with the Ministerial Fellowshipping Committee of the Unitarian Universalist Association. It was and is a statement on the part of the Board that we, as a body, disapprove of an action that a member has taken. A censure is not a statement of censorship (this seems to be a point of widespread confusion) nor one that will prevent a member from speaking freely. It is a statement based on the reality that our actions have consequences; we are free to speak and we are responsible for the impact of our speech. Since it was not a membership action, which is to say Rev. Eklof’s membership standing in the UUMA was not impacted by this action, the Board was neither required nor advised to follow the standards laid out in the Accountability Procedures in the Code of Conduct.

      What authority does the UUMA Board have to censure?
      The authority for the Board to create such a letter of censure is laid out in the UUMA Guidelines for the Conduct of Ministry under the Section heading “A History of Guidelines and Its Revisions” which reads : “However, the UUMA takes these Guidelines seriously. Flagrant disregard of the Guidelines by ministers can be cause for censure or other disciplinary action by the Board of Trustees.” The Board laid out views in the letter of censure as to how Rev. Eklof disregarded the Guidelines. There is neither expectation nor requirement of confidentiality within our governing documents with regard to a letter of censure, and others that have been made from various bodies of the UUMA have been both public and private.

      What is the UUMA Board’s responsibility to covenant?
      We are a covenantal faith. As such, the Board of Trustees of the UUMA are first and foremost responsible to the covenant of our organization. That covenant was voted on by the membership of the UUMA in 2009 and is available in the “Covenant” section of our UUMA Guidelines for the Conduct of Ministry. Each Board of Trustees carries the responsibility of interpreting the covenant to the best of their collective wisdom, and hopefully does so with integrity and faithfulness. We have done our best to do so in this case, and will continue to do so going forward.

      How does the membership have a say in the Board’s priorities?
      We are intentionally working towards being an actively anti-oppressive, anti-racist faith as a whole. As an association, this work is part of our mission. The membership of the UUMA has voted to affirm our mission and has elected leaders to the Board. One of the truths of attempting to live as an anti-racist organization is that it is our job as leadership to center the voices of those who have been marginalized, both in our association and in our country. We understand that this is a different way of leading, that it might not feel equitable, and that it seems as though the ground is shifting. It feels that way because the ground is shifting. We are committed, as leadership, to doing our best to support that shift.

      What efforts did the UUMA leadership take to communicate with Rev. Dr. Eklof regarding the concerns named in the letter of censure?

      Various members of the UUMA Board of Trustees and Executive Team reached out to Rev. Dr. Eklof (and later to the minister acting as his Good Offices person, Rev. Rick Davis) on numerous occasions. Our first communication was a phone call to Rev. Dr. Eklof to invite a conversation during the Spokane General Assembly. This initial communication was followed by another phone call and several text messages to Rev. Dr. Eklof later in the summer. When Rev. Dr. Eklof declined to talk with us, individually or as a body, we decided to move forward with a letter of censure. We gave Rev. Dr. Eklof and Rev. Davis advance notice of the censure letter in a conversation and also in writing.

      After the censure letter was released publicly in August, 2019, we continued to reach out to Rev. Dr. Eklof and Rev. Davis and to respond to their communications to us. Between September 2019 and January 2020, our records indicate we had 14 communications by phone or email or letter with Rev. Dr. Eklof and Rev. Davis or their representatives, some of which we initiated and some of which were responses to communications they initiated.

      The work of ministry is hard, and it requires a lot from all of us. We live in a world that is different than it was ten, thirty or fifty years ago, and we are blessed and challenged by the times we live in. May we continue to find ways forward, listening and learning from each other. And may we know that we are here for one another, now and always.}}}

      I find it interesting that Eklof refused to talk directly with the UUMA about his behavior at the 2019 General Assembly. I recently was asked to meet with the minister and the President of First Jefferson Unitarian Universalist Church to answer certain claims that had been made about controversial statements I have made on this blog over the years. I willingly came to them and listened to their concerns and explained myself to them. No punishment was given to me over the matter. Thus, I showed more courage and integrity in that case than Rev. Eklof did in his!

  2. For example, when a Unitarian Universalist congregation has a Black Lives Matter sign vandalized, do white members respond by calling the police? Has the congregation explored alternatives to reporting the vandalism to the police to document the incident? Are there community-based safety measures that would make Black members of the congregation feel safer or more welcome? If the police were called without the advice of Black members, has this been named to address harm it may have caused and ensure it does not happen again? Once congregations name the truth of policing being anti-Black and oppressive, they must work on alternatives to calling the police.

  3. Pingback: Another fight in reddit over Rev. Todd Eklof’s publicity stunt of 2019 | Dale Husband's Intellectual Rants

  4. Eklof did attend the first meeting, but was advised not to attend any more because he did not have a Good Officer at that time. I must ask, have you actually read the “Gadfly Papers”. Do you know for a fact that you have characterized it correctly? Also, I think that a robust and reasoned discussion of the future direction of the faith is exactly what is needed, counter to what the UUMA says!

    • Yes, I downloaded and read those Gadfly papers and I felt they were unnecessary and counterproductive. The uproar over the unfair hiring practices in the UUA in 2017 was something that I feel needed to happen to make the UUA live up to its stated principles. Eklof was just trying to justify the pre-2017 status quo and that will NEVER be acceptable to me. Even as a white person, I can smell false white victimization a light-year away and I reject it!

      Are we not already having a “robust and reasoned discussion of the future direction of the faith” on blogs like this? It’s just not going the way you want it to because THE MAJORITY OF UUS DISAGREE WITH YOU!

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